Do you have an idea for a great whiskey? Want your own custom whiskey for your bar or restaurant? You and some buddies want your own label for the hunting camp? Want an amazing one-of-a-kind Father’s Day, holiday, graduation or wedding gift? Here’s your chance.
Your Own Personal Whiskey
The Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, Iowa will custom make a 30 gallon barrel of whiskey for you. You pick the grain bill, the yeast, the barrel, the age and the proof. You even get to name it. When it’s done, you get all the whiskey in the barrel and the empty barrel to display proudly.
above: Mississippi River Distilling Company Owner Ryan Burchett talks whiskey
Their inaugural “My Whiskey” program is a unique experience that will have your fingerprints on it from beginning to end. Below tells you, in their words, how they help you craft your unique creation.
So how does this all work? First of all, you must understand that we are responsible for following the very stringent federal and state laws regarding the manufacture and sale of distilled spirits. So while some of this may seem a bit convoluted, there is a strict system in place that your spirits will travel through between our distillery and your door.
First step is establishing the recipe. We have four grains at our disposal: corn, wheat, rye and barley. These grains are purchased directly from the local farmers who grew them. When your bottle is complete, we will be able to tell you the names of the farmers who grew every grain that went into your bottle.
THE MASH BILL
We will work with you to establish a mash bill appropriate to the flavor you are trying to achieve. Corn is rich and sweet. Wheat provides a light sweetness and fruity flavor. Rye is peppery and spicy. Barley is mild and takes on a significant portion of its flavor from the yeast.
If you wish to make a bourbon whiskey, you will use predominantly corn. By law it must be at least 50% corn. Typically, bourbon is 70%-80% corn. For a secondary grain, you can choose wheat or rye. Most bourbons use rye for the secondary grain. However, we use wheat in our Cody Road Bourbon which provides a sweeter flavor. The secondary grain usually accounts for 10%-15% of the mash bill. Finally, bourbon typically includes 5%-15% barley. But as long as you have 51% corn, you can call it bourbon and mix out any other combination of grains for the second 49%.
To be a rye whiskey, the mash bill must be at least 51% rye. Mash bills vary greatly from rye to rye. Some have as little as 55% rye. Others like Cody Road go all the way to 100% rye. We can do anything in between to suit your tastes.
MALT WHISKEY STYLE
Scotch and Irish Whisky is made from malted barley. The roasting or smoking of the barley accounts for much of the flavor in scotch. We do not have malted barley at our disposal from local farmers. So we use an unmalted barley. We do have a malt whiskey yeast that creates a very nice flavor similar to an Irish Whisky. But this would still be a unique American take on it.
MIX AND MATCH
Want to come up with a mash bill that is all yours? Feel free. You can mix and match the grains and yeasts in any way you choose.
Next we need to select your yeast. The yeast has a significant role to play in the flavor of your whiskey. We can help you choose an appropriate yeast for your project. Here are the three choices.
GRAIN WHISKEY YEAST
This yeast is designed for bourbon and rye whiskey production. It imparts a robust flavor of the grain and will leave rich aromas and flavors from the grains. Expect the spice notes of the grains to be a bit stronger and the sweetness to be somewhat subdued compared to the sweet whiskey yeast.
MALT WHISKEY YEAST
This yeast is designed for a Scotch or Irish Whisky style. Expect the mild barley to be light and smooth with this yeast. Might be an interesting yeast to experiment with non-traditional mash bills.
SWEET WHISKEY YEAST
This is a very vigorous and flavorful yeast. We use this yeast in both Cody Road Rye and Cody Road Bourbon. Expect the sweet and fruity notes from the grain. Delicious for lighter whiskies and shorter aged whiskies.
AGING & PROOF
How you barrel the whiskey and for how long will have a great impact on your final product.
Your whiskey will be age in a new 30 gallon charred oak barrel. These barrels are roughly half the size of a traditional whiskey barrel. That gives the whiskey more wood to interact with so it will grab the oak flavor faster than a traditional barrel. We suggest a minimum of 9-12 months in one of these barrels. You may want your whiskey to attain a much longer age. We suggest checking on your barrel periodically. While longer aged whiskey is always fun, in a smaller barrel the oak can take over. Whiskey has life cycles in the barrel. At first it may taste bitter and charred. In a few months, the sweetness can blossom. A few months later, the oak tannins start to increase. Also, the longer the whiskey is in the barrel, the more you will lose to the “Angels Share” which is what we call the whiskey that evaporates or soaks into the wood. You can expect to lose 2%-3% of the volume of your alcohol per year to the Angels Share. So before you automatically decide on aging your whiskey for eternity, understand that it might be a better whiskey at a younger age than you think. Our whiskies all age 1 year in these barrels. There are 5 char levels that we can put your barrel in. We have tried different char levels and find that a medium char (char level 3) seem to impart the most balanced oak flavor for these smaller barrels. We recommend going with a char 3 barrel, but will be happy to order a different char from the cooperage should you so choose.
The proof at which you barrel and bottle your whiskey will dictate how many bottles you have at the end. If you bottle your whiskey at 80 proof, you can expect about 160 bottles. If you raise the proof, that will give you more alcohol in each bottle and will reduce the number of bottles that come out of your barrel. As a rule of thumb, for each 10 proof you increase the bottling, you’ll have about 20 fewer bottles. We recommend barreling your whiskey about 20 proof higher than you plan to bottle it with a maximum barreling proof of about 120 proof.
MAKING THE WHISKEY
Once you have your recipe all nailed down, you will contract the production with us. We will charge $3,000 for the production of your whiskey. This charge is simply for the manufacturing of the whiskey. For legal reasons, the whiskey remains in our possession for the duration of the aging. You will purchase the whiskey from a licensed retailer once it is finished aging and bottled. But during the aging, it is still owned by us and stored on our licensed premises at the distillery.
We will plan to put your whiskey into production within six weeks of your payment. You will receive notice of the mashing and distilling. We will send you pictures and updates of the production via e-mail. Once in aging, we will be able to allow you to periodically taste the whiskey to see if it is ready for bottling. We will need at least 48 hours notice if you want to come check on your barrel so we can pull it out of storage. Remember that the more you check on it, the less you’ll have at the end.
NAMING YOUR WHISKEY
All formulas and labels for spirits sold in America must be approved by the federal government. So while this is your whiskey, it will have to go into a bottle and label that has been pre-approved by the government. We will handle all of that paperwork and filing when the whiskey is produced. This process takes several months. So we will need to know what you want to call your whiskey when we produce it so the label approval can proceed while your whiskey is aging. It will go into a custom labeled bottle that will say, “Mississippi River Distilling Company presents: Joe’s Awesome Whiskey” or whatever you decide to call it. The bottles will have the legal government warning, barcode and batch notes included on each bottle detailing the grain used, the date distilled and who it was commissioned by. They will be hand signed by the distillers.
FINISHING AND RECEIVING YOUR WHISKEY
Once you determine that you would like to pull your whiskey from the barrel and have it bottled, we will schedule a blending and bottling. Your whiskey will all be bottled at the specified proof all at one time. We will not be able to accommodate multiple bottling from the same barrel.
Once the whiskey is bottled, it will be shipped to a licensed distributor who will then deliver it to a licensed retailer. We will set all of this up for your pickup. We prefer to have you pick up the whiskey in the Quad Cities. We do have retailers who would be able to ship your whiskey, but it will be a significant cost to do so.
To pick up your whiskey, you will be charged $3,000. That will be payable to the retailer, not to the distillery. You will receive your empty barrel along with your cases of whiskey. At this point the whiskey is your to do what you choose with.
Have questions that they haven’t answered here? Drop them a line. They’d be happy to discuss your vision for your very own whiskey. You can call the distillery at 563-484-4342 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ryan & Garrett Burchett Owners & Distillers
Mississippi River Distilling Company